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Molokai Homesteader Appointed New Ag Director

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Photo courtesy of County of Maui.

Molokai’s Kali Arce is the mayor’s appointee for the new Maui County Department of Agriculture. Arce, a Hawaiian homesteader who has been working in a variety of agriculture and conservation positions for over 30 years, will lead the department, pending confirmation by the Maui County Council. 

“I have more than three decades of experience in crop production systems, agricultural and biological education, agroforestry, land conservation and ecosystem restoration,” said Arce. “This will help me with the direction of Mayor Victorino to work with many people with various backgrounds to advocate for farmers and ranchers and serve as their voice.  As a Molokai homesteader, I know the importance of making agriculture a priority across Maui County, with a watchful eye for Molokai and Lanai farmers. Although I am familiar with the challenges producers have and in tune with local issues, I want to hear from them what their needs are and I will bring that point of view to my leadership of the department.”

The appointments for director and deputy director were announced on July 6, with the department officially launching on July 1. 

Formation of the County Dept. of Agriculture began in 2020, when Maui County residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of its establishment by passing a charter amendment. Maui County has become the first county in the state to establish its own Dept. of Agriculture. Its mission includes supporting farmers and ranchers, promoting healthy ecosystems and fostering sustainable agriculture. Officials say in contrast to the state’s Dept. of Agriculture and its regulatory framework, the county department will have an advocacy focus. 

“As director, my first kuleana will be to listen to our agriculture, crop and livestock producers and engage with them to learn how we can be an effective advocate for them,” said Arce at a small Maui gathering where the mayor announced his leadership appointees. “Along with my deputy director Weston Yap, we’ll be hiring a team of people to implement the objectives the Agriculture Task Force has laid out, which will reach in developing sustainable regional agriculture, building economic resiliency, boosting resident health thru food security, promoting healthy ecosystems through natural resources generation and developing programs to diversify and expand sustainable forms of agriculture.” 

Left to right: Weston Yap, Michael Victorino and Kali Arce. Photo courtesy of County of Maui.

Arce has worked in farming, agricultural education, agroforestry, land conservation and ecosystem restoration for decades. She most recently served as Acting Program Manager in the Natural Resources Management Division of Kalaupapa National Park. 

She is well-versed in sustainable agriculture management as well as Native Hawaiian plants and traditional farming practices, according to a county press release. A graduate of Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, Arce earned her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she studied crop production, nursery management and livestock and Indonesian crop systems as part of her Study Abroad program. In May 2020, she was awarded her Master of Science degree in Agriculture from Washington State University after receiving a Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture the previous year.

Arce’s community service on Molokai includes regularly volunteering on the Molokai Earth Day Advisory Board, Kamehameha Schools and her church. She also served in leadership roles for the Molokai/Lanai Soil and Water Conservation District, Molokai Land Trust, and the Hikiola Agricultural Cooperative.

“I hope my work will show other Hawaiian wahine that they too can have careers in and be leaders in agriculture and conservation,” she said. 

Deputy Director Weston Yap moved to Maui from Oahu, where he most recently served as Hawaii Produce Safety Program Manager for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. 

“Putting leadership in place for this new department is an important step forward in restoring a viable, sustainable agriculture economy for Maui Nui and Hawaii,” Victorino said. “From the start, I directed my administration to ensure that the department focuses its goals toward being an advocate for agriculture and not to add additional regulations and burdens on farmers and ranchers.”

The department’s office will be located in Wailuku, Maui behind the County building. 

For more information, visit mauicounty.gov/2473/Department-of-Agriculture.


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